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ANALYSIS: What’s next for Sweden after Löfven’s sudden exit?

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven will step down in November, leaving the future uncertain for whoever takes over the reins. The Local’s columnist Lisa Bjurwald sorts out the knowns from the unknowns and looks at what’s next for Sweden.

ANALYSIS: What's next for Sweden after Löfven's sudden exit?
Stefan Löfven, centre, and in a white jacket, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, who has been mentioned as a potential successor. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/TT

Sweden’s long-time Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has, surprisingly, announced his exit as party leader. This despite repeated assurances about leading next year’s general election campaign. The secret of his forthcoming exit was apparently guarded so closely that some of his own ministers were caught off-guard at the announcement on Sunday.

Löfven has become known for his ability to survive crisis after crisis, but it seems the Social Democratic party has at last deemed the burden of seven years in power – and the humiliating loss of a no-confidence vote this summer – too heavy to lead them to an electoral win.

Why now?

Giving a new leader enough time to establish him or herself before the start of next years election campaign is the foremost practical reason for Löfven to announce his exit at this point in time. Even if the soon-to-be ex-PM himself feels he would have the stamina to run a successful campaign, the risk of having it tainted by repeated, long-running criticisms of his leadership is high. Another face at the helm would give the Social Democrats a better chance of successfully focusing on promises of the future rather than failures of the past.

By leaving before the campaign kicks off, Löfven will dodge responsibility for several serious problems during his time in power – most notably the rise in violent gun crime and the high pandemic death toll. This doesn’t flatter a well-functioning democracy built on principles of holding power to account and it’s an issue that political scientists are likely to bring up during the election.

The odds are currently favouring Löfven’s “crown princess” Magdalena Andersson as successor. The question is whether her (generally spoken of in positive terms) achievements as Sweden’s Minister for Finance would outshine the fact that she’s been part of the government for as long as Löfven himself, or if his shadow would extend to her. This would mean that she too could be held accountable for gang crime spilling over onto the streets, a failed pandemic response, the dissolution and flop of Löfven’s so-called January Agreement, the endless government crises since, and so on.

Sweden is an exceptionally stable country, especially from a global perspective, and the political chaos of the past few years has made Swedish voters uneasy. Within the party, there is great unease too about the Social Democrats’ many compromises and their perceived turn to the right. Magdalena Andersson is a political animal, strategic rather than ideologically driven. There are fears internally that she would take the compromising even further instead of steering the party back towards the centre-left.

What happens now?

The Social Democrats will automatically score many points with voters if they pick a female party leader – Sweden’s first female Prime Minister – especially if that person ends up doing well in the election. But a Social Democratic win in the national election next autumn seems unlikely. The once-dominant party achieved their worst results in modern history in the general election of 2018: 28 percent of the general vote. In the August 2021 polls, the figures have sunk even further, down to 24 percent. And in two decades, support from first-time voters has dropped from 30 to 20 percent.

Stefan Löfven has been an impressive leader in some ways, once dubbed the Harry Houdini of European politics” by Politico for his ability to get out of tight corners. But what the party needs now is a fighter, someone with visions, energy, and an oppositional mindset to turn the tide and bring the disastrous figures back up. After almost a decade on the party chairman post, 64-year-old Löfven was clearly not thought to be up for the task ahead. On a side note, the contrast with the Left Partys new female leader, 36-year-old Nooshi Dadgostarwho brought down the PM in this summers no-confidence vote and is roping in young voters in droves – is striking.

Stefan Löfven may have succeeded in his party’s long-standing goal of breaking up the right’s tight union, leaving the Moderate Party, the Liberals et al in a right mess. But let’s not forget the huge and sudden crack in the relationship between the Social Democrats and their former allies in the Left Party, as well as the high tensions between the Social Democrats and their coalition partners in the Green Party. Thus, Löfven’s successor needs to be a fighter as well as a healer, or at least a highly skilled diplomat. Best of luck to him/her…

Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.

Member comments

  1. The social democrats depend on immigrant votes,they constituted about 60-70%of all the people who voted for them in the last election and that has created a total mess of Swedish politics and the government of the country. Result , crime on a scale and severity we have never seen before in this land.
    I lived for 20 years in Plymouth UK roughly the size of Malmö and the difference is staggering.
    Happy days ahead for us all and future generations…….,,

  2. What is the actual source for your information? Such an assertion needs to be backed by facts maybe and I wonder if there is actual data to prove what you claim. At the last election, about 87% of eligible voters turned out to vote, a very high proportion compared to many other countries in Europe. With about 10.2m citizens in 2018, of which 1.9m were foreign born you can see some data from SCB here (–the-whole-country/summary-of-population-statistics/ ) I think it is right to challenge your sweeping claims about vote share by ethnicity for the S party.

    The same publishers of Swedish statistics, also has voter breakdown by ethnicity to some degree and says that in the 2018 national elections voter turnout of foreign born is about 74% whereas Swedish born is 90%. Of the foreign born, 57% are citizens and if you take the average age distribution to be 20% under the voting age (17) then you get about 888,500 who were entitled to vote meaning 657,500 (74% of 888,500) probably voted.

    If you then take your higher figure of 70% foreign born voters voting for the S party then the 2018 vote share of 1,830,386 actual votes cast for them gives them a theoretical count of 1,281,438 foreign votes! That means that the whole population of foreign born citizens entitled to vote walked to the voting station and ALL voted for the S party, plus about 624,000 ‘phantom voters’ or maybe fake ballots?? Not possible.

    I am not a fan of mass immigration which is foisted on a population and followed by cynical attempts to ‘integrate’ which only serve to push people into sink estates and segregated communities. The resultant negative societal impacts you cite hit the headlines daily and scare the heebie jeebies out of many residents. The fact that justice is rarely served and legislation fails to make integration work better (as it probably does to a better degree in the UK and especially in Plymouth) is also a poor show for Sweden and a failure of their ‘democracy’.

    I live here, yes it is a country that can be accused of hiding from the reality of what is happening on the streets and how it affects real people. Perhaps a shameful political correctness drives that. But, the fact is that foreign born citizens are a large share of all the population in all western countries and integration is critical to making it work well and when it works then it becomes a really nice place to be. It is not helped by hiding from reality, nor however from pumping up hysterical fake news and false ‘facts’ which your post attempts to achieve.

    Immigration and integration are not easy for any country, nor any political persuasion to deal with effectively. It is not going away however and if Swedish people want to vote out the S party then it probably won’t happen by use of fake news, false facts and lies intended to stir up resentment for the political class who are currently in charge as the alternative voting options seem to be light on policies which would improve matters. Still, they have a choice to make in 2022! Happy days ahead???

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For members


Sweden Elects: I’ve got election pork coming out my ears this week

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren rounds up this week's key talking points of the Swedish election campaign.

Sweden Elects: I've got election pork coming out my ears this week

There’s an old Swedish Word of the Day in The Local’s archives: valfläsk (literally “election pork”, or pork barrel politics).

This week, there’s been enough of it to feed a Swedish town large enough for both a Biltema and a Dressmann store and still have half the pig left!

You could say it started the week before last, when the Social Democrats’ Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman floated a test balloon loaded with a 50-percent cap on non-Nordic residents in troubled neighbourhoods (it went down among the other parties like it was made out of lead).

Then last week, the Liberals threw their hat in the ring by proposing mandatory language assessments for two-year-olds who don’t attend preschool, and then make preschool mandatory for the toddlers whose Swedish isn’t deemed good enough. This, they said, was meant to help integration in areas where bilingual children don’t speak Swedish at home.

“Studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad,” their manifesto read.

Liberal leader Johan Pehrson’s statement that in the most extreme cases – where parents clearly refuse to let their children learn Swedish – led to a social media storm that conjured up images of crying toddlers being taken into care for failing to distinguish between en and ett when quizzed.

For any parents of multilingual children (who know better than most how language works in early childhood – I’m raising a multilingual baby myself, but I’ve only just started so if you have any tips, do let me know!), I should stress that the proposal is less extreme than how it was first presented.

This is typical for valfläsk, by the way. Take something that’s perfectly obvious and hard to argue against (of course mixed neighbourhoods and children being encouraged to learn languages are generally good things) but dial it up a notch, insert something immigration-related, promise to get tough on whatever it is you want to get tough on, and propose either something that already exists or would be near-impossible to implement.

Then the Stockholm branch of the conservative Moderates proposed that entire school classes in vulnerable areas should be screened for ADHD through optional rapid tests, in order to increase the comparably lower rate of medication among foreign-born children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.

“Detached from reality,” said their Social Democrat rival and pointed out that the partly Moderate-run region was planning to cut the number of psychiatric care clinics for young people.

The Christian Democrats, never ones to be outdone, wanted to chemically castrate sex offenders, give police access to healthcare biobanks, and let police take DNA samples from people stopped in internal border checks.

But while many of the election pledges that get tossed around this close to the election (less than a month to go, now!) tend to range from the radical to the ridiculous and are unlikely to ever be implemented, they’re still worth paying attention to. They give us an indication of the direction the parties want to take, and could well reappear in a more watered-down format later on during the governmental cycle.

They may also become part of post-election negotiations, where even small parties hold key cards as the larger parties fight to cobble together viable government coalitions.

They also say something about Sweden and the direction of the political sphere as a whole, where the parties are currently racing to outdo each other on who can be toughest on immigration and law and order.

The Local’s reporter Becky Waterton has gone through all the parties’ election pledges to see how they specifically would affect foreign residents in Sweden – in case you’ve missed her article, click here to read it.

Also in the world of Swedish politics, a new poll by SVT and Novus has the Moderates and the Sweden Democrats neck and neck, Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson promised lower taxes in his summer speech and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson tougher sentences on gang criminals in hers, and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson suggested changing the name of the Swedish Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) to the Penal Office (Straffverket).

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.